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It was signed "Bandit 6," apparently U.S. Army code, possibly designating a company commander.

When Reuters called the mobile telephone number at the bottom of the message, an American answered, saying he was on a military patrol.  Asked about Batawi's accusation, he said: "I can't comment on that. The commander will call you back."

Hours later, a second call elicited the same response before the American, who would not identify himself, hung up.

The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division is active in the area.

A spokesman at U.S. headquarters in Iraq, who also declined to give his name, said he could neither confirm nor deny the incident.  He said he did not find Batawi's account "plausible." [Lying stack of shit.]

Three neighbors of the Batawi home did corroborate the accusation.  They said U.S. troops, accompanied by Iraqi police, had arrested Batawi's 65-year-old mother and a sister who is 35.

"The Americans attacked the house of the Batawi family.  They were searching for the brothers.  When they could not find them they took the women," said one neighbor, Kamal Abbas.

"Through a translator they told us that they will release the women when the men surrender."

Batawi, who says his occupation is farming his land around Taji, said he and his brothers were imprisoned in 2003 on charges of attacking U.S. forces and planning armed assaults.

He said he would be willing to give himself up again if the Americans provided guarantees that his mother and sister would be freed.  He and his brothers had sought the assistance of the Muslim Clerics Association, the main voice of Iraq's Sunni Arabs, in trying to resolve the situation.

"My brothers and I never attacked American forces before.

"But if they do not release our mother and sister we will be ready to attack them wherever they are," he said.

Near his home, another neighbor, Ali Jassem, said: "If they want the men they should take the men.  Arresting women is not accepted by God ... Our tribal traditions reject such acts.  Where are you, the advocates of democracy?"

Many Iraqis accuse American soldiers of heavy-handed tactics in their fight against mainly Sunni insurgents.  U.S. commanders insist they do their best to avoid harming civilians.  [Good: then in this case the officer responsible will be arrested and tried without dealy.  Yeah, right.]

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